Across the Bay

Friday, February 04, 2005

Khalidi's "Facts"

If you're in the mood for some laughs, I've got the thing for you right here. A little dose of Khalidi always does the job. In fact, in this item, I'm not sure what's more hilarious: Khalidi's nonsense, or that of the people reacting to it! I think this statement captures both:

    Earlham freshman Rachel John said Khalidi gave students a vista on Middle East issues previously concealed by American intelligence.

    "Almost all people speak on U.S. foreign policy, but we get so little press from the Middle East," John said. "(His lecture) puts into perspective how horrible U.S. actions are in the Middle East compared to European colonialism." [Emphasis, and implicit snicker, mine!]

But overall, from the reported quotes, it's a typical useless Khalidi lecture that has no concept about policy and US interests, nor does it have the ability to appreciate how the Iraqis and others in the ME might use the democracy drive to better their lives. Michael Young, in a recent review of Khalidi's latest book (which is pretty much a lot of the same drivel found in the link to the lecture above), summarizes it best:

    Khalidi self-destructs thanks to his inability even to consider a benevolent aspect to empire.
    An inescapable conclusion about the modern Middle East is that indigenous liberal reform has been a spectacular illusion. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As Arab countries embarked on post-colonial independence, they became less free. Most Arab civil societies have been bludgeoned into silence by their regimes, with even the more representative systems denying their citizens true political participation.
    His Resurrecting Empire is a tribute to the headlock of history, the idea that the lessons of the past must somehow invariably apply in the same way today. Khalidi comes to readers from the commanding heights of expertise, arguing that what “seems so painful to those with any real knowledge of the region” is the unwillingness of the U.S. to accept that it is stepping into the boots of past imperial powers, and that “this cannot under any circumstances be a good thing and cannot possibly be ‘done right.’”
    Khalidi, who has no doubts about America’s imperial bent, rejects the possibility that it might represent something potentially constructive.

    If this is the use to which history is put, it is stifling indeed. Khalidi is unimaginative when it comes to seeing the possible advantages of American power in the Middle East. Instead, he falls back on a standard template of Arab criticism, arguing that the Iraq war was part of “a new form of hegemony over the region, in collaboration with Israel.”
    The Israeli link to Iraq is important to Khalidi because he sees it as proof that the Americans are hypocritical democratizers. The pity is that Khalidi never asks how Arabs and Palestinians have benefited from the overthrow of Saddam, arguably the worst tyrant modern Arabs have known. Was it never conceivable that a democratic and multiethnic Iraq would provide Arabs with a contrast to their usual condition under dictatorship? Or that it would highlight Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians? Or that it would prove that Islam and democracy are compatible?

    Alas, the know-how of Arab intellectuals has rarely generated democratic change in the Middle East during the last half-century. Many, like Khalidi, came to reject transformational fantasies about the region, over time becoming de facto guardians of the status quo. It was not a status quo they liked, but one they accepted after the failures of their preferred alternatives, the most obvious one being Arab nationalism. Frustration was palliated by a perception that the region was far more complex than the uninitiated suspected, and that to understand its dynamics one had to be an expert. And so Arab “expertise” slowly bred sterility—most flagrantly in Iraq.

    Security is a word rarely seen in Khalidi’s text, nor does one ever get a sense from him how the 9/11 attacks shaped U.S. Middle East policy. If America’s war in Iraq is old-fashioned imperialism, then it cannot be a preliminary effort to change a region that, intentionally or not, dispatched 19 young men to kill 3,000 innocents.
    Ironically, Khalidi and his comrades long blamed Washington for failing to do just that. So how does Khalidi react to America’s ambitions in Iraq? He says that if American support for democracy and human rights were “lasting and consistent throughout the region,” it would be welcomed. But sweeping change doesn’t occur in a flash; piecemeal progress is necessary. Yet accepting this would mean that Khalidi would have to embrace the transitory advantages of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (advantages that may be more difficult to discern today thanks to bungling post-war policy), which would imply that American imperialism might occasionally be a force for good. Yet he has already made clear that this proposition is unacceptable. The sage has boxed himself in. [Emphasis added]

Indeed, all of Michael's critical points are applicable to Khalidi's silly lecture. Khalidi is so out of touch with the reality of Iraq that he completely missed that 8 million people cared very little about the "state of anarchy and chaos" -- literally giving it the ink-dipped finger -- and pulled off a spectacular and orderly election to determine their future -- something they would never have been able to do had it not been for the Americans.

One thing that Khalidi said rings true: "The Iraqis are going to have to figure this out." How very true, and they have been, and they continue to, thanks to the American intervention. But this has a corollary that's relevant to Khalidi, the non-Iraqi Palestinian: let the Iraqis figure it out, and stay the hell out of it, and that means keep a lid on it, "quick"! Because it's already painful as it is. If you continue talking, it will be... how did you put it? "slow and much more painful."